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is said, by many, to have been Sir Edward Marshall Hall, KC – a man who mixed professional triumph with personal tragedy.

He saved many people from the noose, and his story – and particularly the story of his cases – is a fascinating one.

It was originally told by Edward Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks), a barrister and Tory politician who shot himself in the chest in 1932, aged 32, after being jilted.

The Great Defender, a fascinating look at life at the Bar in the latter part of the Victorian era, is now available as an eBook, with a foreword by modern-day QC Gary Bell, better known as BBC TV’s Legalizer.

At £1.99 for 160,000-odd words, it’s what you might call a bargain!

thegreatdefender_cover-ebook

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The New York Times reports that James Patterson is giving $1 million of his personal fortune to dozens of bookstores.

Alberto Mingardi, of Italy’s Istituto Bruno Leoni (their version of the Adam Smith Institute), believes ‘Patterson is doing something admirable. He has preferences – for the paper book versus the ebook, for the small bookseller vs the large chain – and he is putting his money where his mouth is.’

Though he is interested in the economics:

[C]urrently, he’s given away $267,000 to 54 bookstores. This means that he has donated, on average, a bit less than $5,000 to each bookseller. It is rather unlikely that such a small amount of money helps independent bookstores to thrive in an increasingly difficult market. It’d be more interested to know something on the criteria Patterson is following to give away money to bookstore X instead of bookstore Y. He can do whatever he wants with his money – but I do not really understand how he could have an impact.

$5,000 is obviously better than $0,000. I’ve never read a James Patterson book, perhaps I’ll try one. Maybe (as a cynic points out in the comments below) this is the idea. Personally, I can’t believe that a man as wealthy as Patterson needs any more cash. I’m sure his heart is in the right place. Whether it will achieve anything in the long term, who can say.

After all, even best-selling authors are struggling to make any cash, says The Guardian.

Thomson is not yet broke, but he’s up against it. The story of his garret is a parable of literary life in Britain today. Ever since the credit crunch of 2008 writers have been tightening belts, cutting back and, in extreme cases, staring into an abyss of penury. “Last year,” said novelist Paul Bailey, speaking to the Observer in 2010, “was sheer hell”. Off the record, other writers will freely confide their fears for the future, wondering aloud about how they will make ends meet. Hanif Kureishi, for instance, recently swindled out of his life savings, told me how difficult his life had become.

I went to see 12 Years a Slave the other day, and that does engender a little perspective. I didn’t really enjoy the film, actually, but the book is very good indeed, and at 49p for this e-version is highly recommended. Wish we had thought to stick it out as an eBook!

 

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…continues to sell well, perhaps because most people who can read are fairly concerned about their child’s education.

Yesterday, Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said teachers were tolerating misbehaviour in some schools, and that lots of children in those schools were really struggling. Given that they tend to come from the poorest backgrounds, this is a tragedy.

Nicky Campbell’s 5 Live phone-in was all about this subject – I only heard a few minutes of it, but it was pretty grim; one chap rang in to say five-year-olds in the school in which his wife teaches were biting, spitting and swearing at all and sundry. ‘That’s no way for a five-year-old to behave,’ said Nicky (inadvertently leaving open the option that it was, perhaps, the way for older pupils to behave).

The Telegraph rang us to get Frank Chalk to write an op-ed page piece for them, but he was busy fighting off horses of teenagers, so they got Adam Pettitt, instead. Pettitt is a former Eton master and now headmaster of Highgate School, whose list of alumni includes various MPs, barons, professors and judges. No-one famous ever went to any of the schools Frank Chalk writes about, but his basic message would probably be the same as Pettitt’s.

Mike Tyson didn’t go to school, much, so couldn’t have disrupted the education of others. Still, he found a way to make something of himself. No-one who likes boxing will ever forget the sheer excitement of watching the young Tyson fight. The way big, tough (relatively speaking) boxers like Trevor Berbick and Michael Spinks folded in front of him was astonishing; in many cases, his bouts were over before a punch was thrown, never mind landed. His defeats of the brave but hopelessly outclassed Frank Bruno, then his own almost unbelievable loss to the journeyman Buster Douglas and the ear-biting horror with Evander Holyfield… there’s enough in the sporting side of his life alone for a fascinating book.

His grimy upbringing, and grimier behaviour outside the ring, and his insane lifestyle, make his autobiography one of the most interesting sports books I’ve ever read, and a firm recommend for Christmas.

He writes (with the assistance of a ghost) like he fought; you don’t end up liking him, or understanding him, but you can’t deny that he has led an extraordinary life. There’s enough there for an entire conference, as they say.

The Guardian wonders if Santa should bring children eReaders this year.

And, as we head to Perth, Geoff Boycott says England’s glory years are over. I don’t know so much; all we need is two new openers (the unfortunate Carberry being good but a bit elderly), a new captain, a new no6 batsman, a new wicket-keeper capable of averaging 40 in Tests, and four new bowlers.

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Macarthur Job’s Air Disaster is now out as a Kindle eBook. It’s a fascinating read, and a joy to have worked on; it required (obviously) almost no editing, but we did do a lot of research to add in a more human side of the story to go with Macarthur’s outstanding technical knowledge and explication.

For instance, one of the chapters tells the story of this tragedy, aboard a then-revolutionary (and British-built) Vickers Viscount flying from Chicago to Toronto.

Trans-Canada Air Lines – now Air Canada – was an early adopter of this four-engined turboprop. In Macarthur’s words, its ‘introduction… to North American skies was nothing less than epoch-making. The whining power of the vibration-free, smooth-running Rolls-Royce Dart engines was unlike anything experienced before in commercial aviation. Gone were the grunting starts of great radial engines, blowing smoke as they burst into life; gone were the lengthy, pre-takeoff engine run-ups, when the whole aircraft would seem to stamp and shudder like some great angry animal. And in cruising flight, at pressurised altitudes, passengers could relax in an environment free from the continual vibration and engine noise levels of the past.’

As ever, there is a price to pay for every great advance. As one of the Canadian Viscounts – CF-TGR – was flying over Flat Rock, Michigan, on the morning of July 9, 1956, the No. 4 propeller broke away from its engine and one of its blades smashed through the passenger section of the cabin, killing a passenger and injuring several others. The pilot managed to land safely.

This is where most of the accounts – including the wiki entry – end. The full story is a much more shocking and moving one.

The passenger was 31-year-old Mary Carolyn Lippert; she was taking her young sons home from a weekend visit to see their father, a junior neurosurgeon at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The three of them were allocated seats at the front of the aircraft, for Mrs Lippert’s convenience. Unfortunately, this meant she was in the path of the flying propeller when it entered the cabin, and she was decapitated. Her three-year-old, Robbie, was on her lap at the time; his 14-month-old brother, Richard, was by her side.

After a lot of digging, we managed to track down Robbie Lippert and talk to him about the tragedy. He was remarkably unscathed by the experience, even allowing for his age at the time; he put this down to the fact that his father had remarried and that his new ‘mother’ had brought the boys up as her own, while never trying to remove their natural mother from their memories. She was talked about a great deal, and her photograph was always displayed in the house. Here it is, taken shortly before she died, with the endless possibilities of 1950s North America stretching ahead of her:

Lippert Mary Carolyn(Photograph courtesy Mr Robert Lippert)

Theodore Dalrymple’s books continue to sell well – perhaps because he continues to ask important questions, such as this one of Justin Welby and the Church of England:

(D)id the Archbishop himself have a CRB check before he was elevated…?

Here are some links to the Kindle versions of Dalrymple books we’ve published (paper copies are also available in some cases):

Life at the Bottom

Our Culture, What’s Left of It

Anything Goes

Not With a Bang But a Whimper

The Wilder Shores of Marx

Fool or Physician (as Anthony Daniels, being a memoir of his early professional life)

Monrovia Mon Amour

Zanzibar to Timbuktu

If Symptoms Persist (early Spectator columns)

Second Opinion (later Spectator columns)

The Examined Life

So Little Done (the latter has one review, a one star, which is amusing)

And – turning to the entirely trivial – there were times when I honestly never thought I’d see the day again (1977 was the last time), but we are 3-0 up in an Ashes series with one to play. I feel for Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, who have bowled their hearts out and have been let down by terrible batting. But is 4-0 too much to hope for?

Michael Clarke is still ‘taking the positives’ – the latest one being that the Australians came within 74 runs of beating England at Chester-le-Street – and King Cricket has some further words of consolation:

It’s not all bad news for Australia though. In Rogers, Clarke and Harris, they’ve unearthed some talented young cricketers for the future.

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IT WAS THE trial of the century… an English aristocrat, haughty and proud, stood in the shadow of the noose – brought low by a terrible act of vengeance.
In the dock: Earl Ferrers, a violent, eccentric but hugely-rich landowner, with vast estates, a noble pedigree going back centuries, and an eye for the ladies.
The charge: murder.
Ferrers had had a troubled marriage to his wife, the beautiful Countess Mary. He kept a mistress, by whom he fathered four children, and was a rabble-rousing drunk, much given to violence and cruelty when in his cups.
Some years earlier, Mary had left him, after succeeding in a scandalous suit of separation at the church court in London.
The Earl believed – wrongly – that a servant called John Johnson had helped his wife to escape his clutches.
He had held a simmering grudge against Johnson ever since; on January 18, 1760, this well of resentment overflowed.
He lured the unfortunate man to the study in his grand Hall under a pretext… and then locked the door, forced the terrified man to his knees and shot him.
Johnson died early the next day, despite the best efforts of one of the country’s leading surgeons.
The aristocratic killer was caught by an angry mob of his own tenants, who held him as he fled, half-dressed, for his horse.
Now he was on trial for his life, before the House of Lords.
The cream of London High Society packed the House to watch the case unfold.
Outside, thousands of commoners waited near Tyburn, where a special gallows was being built.
The question on their minds: was Ferrers about to become the last English nobleman to be executed?

InTheShadowOfTheNoose_cover-ebookIn other news, Apple’s eBook pricing court case and some reaction.

And – in the wake of the Lions, and then an Ashes opener that actually left me feeling ill – why does anyone pay to read newspaper sports pages any more, when there are better-written blogs like these out there, f-o-c?

Cricinfo, of course. ‘The stats suggest sloppiness is increasing. As Andy Zaltzman pointed out, the first innings of this Test at Trent Bridge was the third time in the past 18 months that all the England top six had got into double figures but failed to get to 50; it had happened three times in the previous half-century.’

King Cricket: ‘Australia bat all the way down to number 11… Their problem is that they don’t bat all the way up to number one.’

The Old Batsman: ‘Are fast bowlers getting slower?’

And, from the enemy camp, After Grog Blog Cricket.

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Chris Grayling is planning big changes to the English (and Welsh) legal system, among them further cuts to legal aid, and allowing competition for legal aid contracts.

It seems to me that if the State takes upon itself the right to prosecute individuals, and ultimately to remove their liberty, it ought to at least allow a level playing field – that is, it ought to fund the defence, properly.

My sister, a barrister, is up in arms about it all – as are most of her colleagues, including Toby Potts: so much so that she’s written to The Graun about it.

The upshot, she says, is that outside firms like Serco and, oddly, Eddie Stobart will end up running defence work – and that they will be under commercial pressure to get defendants to plead guilty, as the employed lawyers involved will earn the same fee for the firm for a quick guilty plea hearing as they would for a two-day trial.

The Bar does have an image problem. Everyone thinks that barristers are pompous, overpaid, bewigged windbags, and in the case of my sister they are certainly correct*.

Chris Grayling also blames them for a lot of the delays in court. This idea, says my sis, is

breathtaking, particularly from a Minister who bears ultimate responsibility for the delays occasioned to justice daily. I regularly work until 2am or later when in a trial, to ensure that admissions, legal arguments, and editing of statements and interviews, as well as my preparation for witnesses and speeches are ready. I do not ask judges (nor would expect to receive) time for this at Court. I also am regularly left sitting for hours at court mid-trial, case delayed, if not completely adjourned, or jury dismissed. Why? Because the interpreter has again not turned up, on time or at all, or has been discovered, part way through a four-week trial, not to have been interpreting correctly. Or the defendant has not been put on the prison van, or, if he has, he has been brought to X Crown Court from Y prison fifty miles away, via Z, forty miles in the opposite direction. These are not exaggerations. Last year I defended the rape of a five-year-old child, who was made to wait at court for several days whilst an interpreter was persuaded to attend. No one was held to account for this. I could give example after example from personal experience.

It’s almost like there’s a book in it!

Anyway, if you’re interested in stopping this devastation of a legal system copied around the world, you can sign a petition here.

Meanwhile, The Bookseller is still worried about the future of publishing, and eBooks – the future is all about piracy, self-publishing and library lending, apparently.

*Joke. She’s not pompous, or overpaid. As she says, she regularly works through the night on cases – I’ve been at her house while she’s doing so, and it’s quite boring for visitors. On some cases, depending on how they progress, she can earn a per hour rate not far off the minimum wage, out of which she must pay VAT, chambers rent and tax. She is a windbag, though.

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We’ve recently begun uploading our titles on to Kobo.

Among those available on this platform are A Paramedic’s Diary, Sick Notes and Second Opinion.

For some reason, we have had a lot of requests from people in Australia for our books to be on Kobo – so here you go, cobbers.

Coming soon:

May It Please Your Lordship - AI Cover

 

May It Please Your Lordship is the story of Toby Potts’ first days as a young barrister, stumbling and mumbling his way through to the right result – usually. It’s very funny, we think.

Toby Potts is the nom de plume of barrister David Osborne, and the book – the first of several, we hope – is semi-autobiographical. David was called to the Bar in the 1970s, whereas Toby is a thoroughly modern creation.

We’ll post up an extract soon.

The cover (designed as always by Paul Hill) features an illustration by Neil Kerber, of Private Eye‘s Supermodels fame.

Finally, thank you to all those people who called or emailed about our other barrister; he’s showing signs of responding to treatment, and our fingers are firmly crossed.

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We’re reprinting a short digital run of A Paramedic’s Diary – there’s no economic sense in it, really, but I hate to see it slide out of print.

We’re also reprinting Wasting Police Time and It’s Your Time You’re Wasting: perennial sellers that just chug on, year in, year out.

Frank Chalk is still dividing readers nicely up into people who think he ‘hates kids’ and people with kids in rough schools (there are some) who hate the way they are being ‘taught’. Here are two contrasting Amazon reviews from the last week or two, the first by ‘JEM':

I have never been so incensed by any book that I have read as I was by this one. This man is a disgrace to the profession… I work in a school in a very deprived area and, in contrast to Mr. Chalk’s opinion, the children I teach are exciting, interested and enthusiastic…when they have a decent teacher. These children crave positive and consistent role models, from what I have read, Mr. Chalk is neither. His teaching strategies seem to revolve around humiliation, degradation and insults – who is the adult? Everyone deserves the most to be expected from them and the very best teaching on offer. I, thankfully, don’t know any teachers like this man, however I am concerned that some people (with no current experience or interaction with schools) will take this to be a common reflection of what goes on – it most certainly is not! I endured this book and would definitely not recommend it. (I gave this book one star, but only because Amazon made me and wouldn’t let me put none).

That thud is the sound of the point bypassing JEM.

And:

I read this book out of interest to see if my daughter’s experience of teaching in an inner London school was general. Actually it would appear she put a good spin on it! This book should be compulsory reading for education ministers and so-called experts… If anything will persuade grandparents to try to provide private eduction for their grandchildren, this book is it.

It’s about time we published a new teacher, and I may have news on that soon. Likewise, another copper. (By the way, Gadget’s latest mug is amusing.)

I’ve just ordered Gravity’s Engines, which looks like a very interesting read, but will probably end up being another in the long list of books which I buy because they look very interesting but end up being just a bit too dense and complicated for my tiny mind, and are thus abandoned about halfway through. This amuses my rather smug wife no end: she gets through a proper classic novel or something about synaesthesia roughly twice a week.

Robert McCrum, in The Guardian, says ‘the fog is lifting’, and that eBooks will (possibly) save hardbacks, but kill paperbacks. I think he’s right; he’s said it before, and we said it before that. (Someone probably said it before us, mind you.)

Finally, Betty Lavette:

Betty Swann:

Betty Moorer:

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If you’re onto a good thing, why rock the boat? That’s what I would like to ask the ‘unnamed client’ of the law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner.

According to City AM:

THE GOVERNMENT may be forced to scrap VAT on ebooks if a legal challenge from a London law firm is successful.

BLP, acting on behalf of an unnamed client, is challenging HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over its decision to charge the standard 20 per cent rate of VAT on ebooks while printed books do not have the tax applied.

Alan Sinyor, head of VAT at BLP, said that ebooks and print books should qualify for “fiscal neutrality on the grounds that they are the same from the perspective of meeting the customer’s needs”.

If the case before the UK tribunal is successful, HMRC may have to remove VAT on ebooks, which could have a knock-on effect of reducing their price.

Yep, it could. Is it likely, in the current climate? Or is it more likely that VAT will be applied to printed books?

In other news, while driving back from dropping the kids off at school this morning, I tuned in to Radio 5 Live’s Phone in with Nicky Campbell, where the Howard League for Letting People Off was leading a chorus of astonishment that the police are actually arresting schoolchildren for being ‘naughty’. Leaving aside two big and unanswered questions – define ‘naughty’, and explain what you’re supposed to do with knife-wielding five-year-olds in an era when pretty much all punishment has been abolished by people exactly like the Howard League* – it’s certainly true that in some lamentable cases the cops have been wrongly criminalising kids for ages. As PC Copperfield explained some time ago, much of it is about ‘using young people as statistics-fodder':

PLUS ÇA CHANGE, PLUS C’EST LA MEME CHOSE

IF YOU HAD BOUGHT the first edition of this book, then round about here you would have been reading a (probably) rather confusing explanation of a thing called ‘administrative detections’. This was a complicated bureaucratic scam by which we ‘solved’ trivial crimes. We’re talking crimes so trivial – a bit of name-calling in the playground, a cup of water thrown over someone, a two-fingered salute – that people didn’t actually want to go to court about them, they just wanted to get the matter off their chests. For many modern Britons, the police now provide that outlet, where once a long walk or an adult conversation might have done the trick.

The system of administrative detections has recently been done away with, perhaps after this book found its way to the Home Office, but it’s worth explaining what it was for three reasons – first, because other parts of the book refer to the system; second, to show how things have changed; and third, because these things are cyclical and by the time you actually read this administrative detections will probably be back in vogue.

Let’s say there’s been a bit of mobile phone text abuse going on between a couple of schoolkids – Wayne and his half-brother’s ex-girlfriend’s new partner’s ex, Tracey. Wayne has snt a nsty txt to Tracey so her mum has phoned the police about it; under our system of ‘Ethical Crime Recording’ (see below), it’s therefore officially a crime and we need to sort it out.

We used to ‘solve’ these sorts of ‘crimes’ like this:

First, we’d visit Tracey, the IP. She doesn’t want Wayne prosecuting – it’ll cause all sorts of grief back at school and by next week they’ll be best mates anyway. But if we leave it at that we’ve got a big, fat, unsolved crime sitting there in the middle of our figures, and that’s no good for anyone (certainly not for promotion-hungry police chiefs and politicians hoping to get re-elected).

So we’d reassure her that we only wanted to clear it up for the figures, we wouldn’t take Wayne to court or even caution him, and could she just make a statement? Usually, she’d agree.

Then we’d visit Wayne, the offender. We’d reassure him, too, that the matter would never go to court, and on that basis he’d agree to be interviewed. During the interview, he’d admit that, yes, he had sent a mildly abusive message to Tracey.

Then, by a process of office-based smoke, mirrors and Biros, we would fill out a few forms, staple the whole lot together and send it off to be ‘audited’ by the ‘crime audit’ department.

No-one would ever go to court – indeed, no-one would ever even be cautioned – but… hey presto! The offence would be filed as ‘detected’.

Statistically, it would then show up in our figures as a detected crime, balancing out all those tricky undetected burglary dwellings, muggings and genuine assaults.

Even better, during the interview we’d get Wayne to reveal that he had himself received offensive texts from Tracey. So we’d nip back round to her place and go through the whole process again, only this time she would be the offender and he would be the complainant. That makes two detected crimes!

If we could get them to agree to a ripped shirt or a damaged satchel in a bit of playground argy-bargy at the same time, that – a criminal damage – would be three!

Given that the modern British police service is judged almost entirely by Soviet-style figures – Crime down by two per cent! Detections up by seven per cent! – administrative detections were a work of no little genius. They allowed us to report to the Home Office that we were solving lots of things – and, in a manner of speaking, it was even true!

We just crossed our fingers and hoped that nobody noticed that the crimes we were solving were fairly trivial*.

Of course, there was a downside, apart from the fact that it was all a bit of a fiddle on the taxpayer.

It took as much time and work – and sometimes even more – to ‘solve’ a playground hair-pulling in this way as it does to get a burglar to court. We’d have to visit people, take statements, speak to classmates, interview the offender (having waited for appropriate adults and possibly solicitors and even translators to attend the police station), fill in forms, get the adults to sign other forms, complete a crime report and update the victim before it was all done and dusted. It could take a day or more to sort out.

This meant we were so tied up in investigating spats between Newtown’s children for the sake of administrative detections that we couldn’t do much about real crime.

I mentioned this paperwork contrivance in passing in the first edition, and we were immediately bombarded with requests for interviews from the media.

Surely, they all said, you must be making this up?

The whole issue of the mad bureaucracy which is strangling our police was even raised in the House of Commons, in a question to our esteemed ex-Police Minister, Mr Tony McNumpty MP.

In response, Mr McNumpty said this: ‘Of course, we need the balance between paperwork and bureaucracy, and proper policing. Along with ACPO and the Police Federation, we are trying to ensure that that balance is maintained and to enhance the modernisation that has already taken place. However, the Hon. Gentleman is living in cloud-cuckoo-land if he thinks that that is all that happens in policing – and I would not believe PC David Copperfield either, because that is more of a fiction than Dickens.’

Read into that what you will, but perhaps Mr McNumpty and his colleagues were alarmed by the publicity. A few months later they announced – quietly – that administrative detections were being dropped.

That presents issues of its own, of course.

Firstly, what shall I put in this book in the place where administrative detections were discussed? But, perhaps more importantly, what will be the effect on the average bobby and on crime-fighting generally?

It’s early days, but it’s looking like it will still involve lots of ballpoint pens and plenty of frustrated victims.

People haven’t stopped reporting trivial crimes, you see. And under another key concept in our vast criminal justice bureaucracy – that of ‘Ethical Crime Recording’ – we are duty-bound to investigate all allegations and treat them equally.

Often, as I’ve said, the caller doesn’t actually want us to do anything about the offence, other than ‘have a word with’ whoever they think is responsible.

Sadly, for statistical purposes, we don’t regard ‘having a word with someone’ as a successful outcome to a criminal investigation, irrespective of what the victim and his family want**.

So we now have to solve these crimes properly – by ‘sanctioned detections’ (where the offender is brought to court or given a police caution).

In the case of Wayne and Tracey above, we’d now have to arrest Wayne, drag him down to the police station and go through the whole rigmarole in order to ‘get the detection’. All for Home Office figures.

We can only speculate as to the effect this (often) gross over-reaction has on the ongoing relationship between the texter and the textee (not to mention the texter’s relationship with us, the police).

As for the paperwork, well, it takes just as long. The bureaucracy of the administrative detection has been replaced with the bureaucracy of the unwanted sanctioned detection.

Tony McNumpty and his friends at the Home Office missed a golden opportunity to do something about our form-filling, everything-in-triplicate, fax-it-over-to-me system.

When they did away with administrative detections, they ought to have said this: ‘We know that most bobbies are half-sensible people. Moreover, we recognise that they are the people ‘on the ground’ dealing with crime and criminals. We accept that they are quite able to distinguish between a nasty domestic assault and a bit of handbags between two kids. We’ll give them the discretion to write off the minor stuff, and just have a word with the parties. That will free them up more to work on the nasty stuff.’

Of course, the history of modern British policing is littered with missed opportunities, wrong-headed initiatives and politically correct rubbish, so they didn’t.

McNumpty may or may not go down in history as a giant of law and order. I know what Sir Robert Peel would have made of the whole thing, though. It’s all there in the last of his nine principles: ‘The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.’

Using young people as statistics-fodder, and often giving them criminal records, just so that we can mislead the public about how effective we are is plain wrong. Individual police officers are the ones speaking to the victims and their families, and for that reason they should have at least some discretion about the best way to proceed with an investigation.

*The paranoid among us begin to wonder whether the whole circular nonsense is a job creation scheme for bureaucrats and quangorities.

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The Macmillan Dictionary is no more. I’ve still got mine, from school, 30-odd years ago; now it will only be eBooked.

(T)he message is clear and unambiguous: the future of the dictionary is digital,” said Stephen Bullon, Macmillan Education’s publisher for dictionaries.

Maybe not just dictionaries.

‘A select committee report shows a worrying decline in the number of people using libraries,’ according to Sameer Rahim in The Daily Telegraph.’To save them, we need to visit them.’

I’ve just moved house and have yet to explore the half-a-dozen in my area. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing just that, searching out interesting books and not forgetting to mark my presence by filling in as many council satisfaction surveys as I can.

Why?

I doubt many young, reasonably well-paid professionals (or poorly-paid non-professionals, come to that) use libraries. Apart from anything else, lots of people just don’t read – your choices now go some way beyond a book, three terrestrial channels, or the latest Jam LP. (Have you seen the video games out there these days?) But even those who do don’t go to libraries because they don’t like them, and books are very cheap to buy.

I always think libraries are a weird mixture of quiet and noisy, and they look and smell like every single local authority building I’ve ever been inside. Shelves full of Iron Maiden and Madonna compilation CDs in cracked, opaque cases, posters about STDs and local walks and telling you not to be rude to the staff, really old-fashioned PCs, and a few books. The ones you want are rarely there, even though the charges if you return a book late are mad. They have horrible carpets, uncomfortable chairs, and you can’t get a cup of tea. I don’t think any of this is fixable, unfortunately.

Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations sounds very interesting. The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars

Writing without a scintilla of sensationalism, Sacks relates his experiences in the late 60s with LSD, mescaline, cannabis, amphetamine, chloral hydrate and even injectable morphine, culminating in the astonishingly complex and extreme hallucinations occasioned by his taking 20 Artane pills (a synthetic drug related to belladonna).Suggested to him by his pals on Muscle Beach (a casual aside in the text, but I happen to know that Sacks was a champion weightlifter in his youth), the Artane provoked completely veridical hallucinations of friends coming to visit him in his LA home, his parents arriving by helicopter, and even a conversation with a philosophic spider who’s opening comment was: “did I think that Bertrand Russell had exploded Frege’s paradox?”

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